Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Self-Portrait

Details
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Self-Portrait
stamped twice with The Estate of Andy Warhol and Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamps and numbered 'P040.028' (on the overlap and on the stretcher)
synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas
40¼ x 40¼ in. (102.2 x 102.2 cm.)
Painted in 1986.
Provenance
The Estate of Andy Warhol, New York
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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Lot Essay

'The new painting, coming as it does twenty years after the last great self- portraits in the sixties, has by contrast with them a strange sense of absoluteness. the portrait derives part of its power from the sense that we are being given a rare chance to witness the aging of an icon' (J. Cauldwell, 'A New Andy Warhol at the Carnegie', Carnegie Magazine, Pittsburgh, January-February 1987, p.9).

Painted in 1986, the year before his death, Self-Portrait depicts the artist wearing one of his distinctive 'fright wigs.' In contrast to the larger canvases from this series, this particular work offers an intensely intimate encounter with Warhol. Using his favored 40' canvases, the same size as his iconic early 1960s portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, and mounted on the wall at Warhol's height, the life-sized canvas captures our attention as Warhol engages the viewer with an intense stare that attempts to draw you into his incredibly creative and yet complex mind. Unlike any of his more enigmatic self-portraits, the scale of this work offers a tantalizing glimpse into the mind of a genius, the artist who both chronicled and changed popular culture in the last half of the 20th Century. Self-Portrait is one of the final, defining images Warhol left of himself and, completed just months before his death in February 1987, it is universally acknowledged as his last great artistic gesture. After a lifetime of capturing the rise and rise of the cult of celebrity, he finally turned the camera on himself to leave his lasting legacy to the world.

This work's unique color scheme, with Warhol's bubblegum pink face against a background of patriotic blue, is a perfect amalgam of American culture and the artist's personality. This increasingly restrained palette shows a more mature Warhol at work, but one who has not totally released himself from the grip of Pop. The shock of the pink contrasts with the ashen appearance of Warhol's skin and the exceptional quality of this particular screen gives rise to an image of immense clarity. The individual contours of the skin, the deep piercing blue and pinpoint pink of the pupils and the individual delicate strands of the fright wig converge to give a uniquely detailed portrait.

Throughout his prolific career, Warhol turned his attention to many different subject matters but he repeatedly turned to his self-portraits. His earliest self-portraits appear while he was still at art school in Pittsburgh. One of his initial drawings gives a poignant prediction of the many different faces of Andy Warhol that he was to project during his lifetime of making self-portraits. The Broad Gave Me My Face But I Can Pick My Own Nose is a youthful drawing of Warhol picking his own nose. The result is a strange mixture of an activity that the most people undertake only when no one else is in the room, and a self-conscious performance meant to shock his audience.

This duality of Warhol's persona continues in the first self-portraits of the Pop Era. In 1963, the collector Frances Barron commissioned Warhol to do his own self-portrait, a reversal of the traditional rules of portraiture. The resulting series of mug shots, taken in a photo booth, reveal Warhol, dressed in dark glasses and the upturned collars of his overcoat, playing the role of the celebrity that he depicts. As the critic Robert Rosenblum noted:

'Equating himself with the wealthy, the chic and the famous, he tells us as much about himself as we would know about Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor from their images in his earlier paintings. But of course, this disguise as a celebrity can also be read as revelation of Warhol's personal and professional ambitions in 1963 to become a star, his private persona hidden, his public persona only to be caught on the wing by a lucky photographer' (R. Rosenblum, 'Andy Warhol's Disguises" in D. Elger, ed., Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, 2004, Ostfildern-Ruit, p.22)

By 1966, Warhol had become an established celebrity in his own right and the image of an assured, self-confident Warhol, his chin resting on his fanned out fingers has a contemplative, almost pseudo-intellectual quality about it. But even here, it seems that Warhol has not truly let go of the image of himself that he is trying to project. One side of his face and both his eyes are hidden in shadow, restricting the real Andy Warhol from view. The vibrant colors and deep shadows cause Warhol's image to melt away and he merges into the background, ironically becoming the most anonymous and ambiguous of any of his self-portraits. It is only with his 1986 Self-Portrait that the true Warhol begins finally to emerge. This is Warhol in all his un-glory; gaunt, slightly disheveled and wearing his notorious fright wig. After two decades of presenting the growing obsession with consumerism to the world, Warhol finally lets himself become that selfsame product. He has become an object offered up for consumption by the machinery of the commodity culture that he himself helped to define.

While Warhol's self-portraits of the early 1960s used pictures taken in one of the many cheap photo-mat booths that lined New York's 42nd Street, by the time he produced this work in 1986 he had refined his technique by using Polaroid photographs as his source image. Warhol found that the technical qualities of the Polaroid print combined with the improvements in his silkscreen process he had been making since the 1970s resulted in unparalleled photographic detail. His earlier self-portraits have rough surfaces and an uneven consistency; by 1986, the image is of such controlled clarity that it imprints itself on our memory long after we have looked away. The high quality of the silkscreen captures every minute detail of Warhol's features from his sunken cheeks, the slight droop of his pursed lips to his deep, penetrating stare. This powerful gaze is intensified by Warhol's decision to be photographed wearing a black roll-necked sweater, covering everything but his face. By combining this reductive look with the high contrast of the final print all extraneous details have been eliminated and Warhol's head floats across the series of six canvases staring like a disembodied ghost.

Traditionally the self-portrait revealed the private side of a public profession. From Rembrandt to Cézanne and, in particular Francis Bacon, the self-portrait is often a critical self-examination. But Warhol's early self examinations are different as he presented himself a figment of his imagination, as the character that he had invented to project to the world. It is only in these 1986 works that we begin to see the true Warhol finally emerging out from behind the safety of the camera lens. This powerful canvas shows the painfully shy artist finally exposing himself to our scrutiny. His life is etched on the contours of his face and for the first time we see the true Warhol and the result is commanding. Throughout his life the true Warhol had been hiding from us, and for the first time one of his most prophetic statements he made at the height of fame had become true,'If you want to know about Andy Warhol, the just look at the surface of my pictures, my movies and me and there I am; there's nothing in between" (A. Warhol quoted in G. Berg, 'Andy: My True Story", in Los Angeles Free Press, 17 March 1967, p.3).

It is particularly poignant that this vision of the true Andy Warhol was produced during the last few months of his life. Warhol was obsessed with death and this obsession can be read on his face like the pages of a biography. This extraordinarily evocative work offers a unique opportunity to see deep into the psyche of one the most influential artists of the twentieth-century. Alone amongst his self-portraits produced throughout his career, this final series of is widely regarded as the legacy by which he will remembered.






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